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Eric Akis: Armenian orange cake a sweet treat for dinner parties

A dense, orange-flavoured cake with a crisp base. Serve it with orange-flavoured whipped cream and garnishes.
Armenian-style orange cake is plated and topped with flavoured whipped cream and garnishes. ERIC AKIS

My wife has been baking an Armenian-style orange cake for years and often does so when we are having guests for dinner. It’s a sweet treat that becomes a special occasion dessert when plated and adorned with its rich whipped cream topping.

Also, for years, I’ve been meaning to share the recipe for it in my column and have finally done that today. The original recipe for it appeared in a Best of Bridge cookbook. The cake we make is updated version of it with more detailed information on how to prepare it that has some substitutions, such as using walnuts in the cake instead of almonds.

It’s an interesting cake in that the buttery, orange-zest flavoured flour/brown sugar mixture you make for it is used in two ways. Half of it is spooned and pressed into a cake pan and used as a base for the cake, as one might for a cheesecake. The other half of it is blended with an egg, sour cream, baking soda and vanilla, creating a batter for the cake.

The batter is spooned over the base, topped with walnuts and the cake is baked until risen and rich golden. You can serve the cake warm or at room temperature. At this time of year, you can also seasonally garnish the cake, by, as I did, topping servings of it with such things as mandarin orange segments and pomegranate seeds.

Armenian-Style Orange Cake with Walnuts

Dense, orange-flavoured cake with a crisp base is served with orange-flavoured whipped cream and garnishes.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes

Makes: 10 servings

For the cake

• vegetable oil spray

2 cups all-purpose flour (see Note)

2 cups golden brown sugar (loosely packed)

• finely grated zest from 2 medium oranges

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup cool room temperature butter, cut into small cubes

1 large egg

1 (1 cup/250 mL) tub sour cream

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup walnut pieces, broken or chopped into smaller pieces if overly large

For the whipped cream topping and garnishes

1 (1 cup/237 mL) container whipping cream

2 Tbsp icing sugar

2 Tbsp orange juice or orange-flavoured liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier

1 tsp finely grated orange zest

• mandarin orange segments, pomegranate seeds and/or or mint sprigs, for garnish (optional)

To make the cake, cut a nine-inch circle of parchment paper and set it in the bottom of a nine-inch spring-form cake pan. Lightly coat the paper and the sides of the pan with oil spray. Set the pan aside for now.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine flour, brown sugar, zest from the two oranges, allspice, nutmeg and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter to the bowl. With your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work butter into the flour until thoroughly distributed and no small pieces are visible.

Place half of the flour/brown sugar mixture (about two cups) into the cake pan and gently press it into an even layer, creating a base for the cake.

Place the egg into a second mixing bowl and beat well. Add the sour cream, baking soda and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add this wet mixture to the remaining flour/brown sugar mixture in the mixing bowl and mix until a batter forms.

Spoon the batter into the cake pan and evenly spread it over the base. Top the batter with the walnuts. Set the pan in the middle of the oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake springs back when gently touched in the centre.

Set cake on a baking rack and cool 30 minutes. Now, if needed, run a thin knife around edges of the pan to release the cake from it. Remove the cake pan’s outer ring. You can serve the cake warm, or let it cool to room temperature. If doing the latter, cover cake and leave at room temperature until ready to serve. It can be made up to a day before serving,

To make whipped cream topping, pour cream into a mixing bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer, and whip until soft peaks form. Add icing sugar, juice (or liqueur), 1 tsp orange zest and beat until medium peaks form. Transfer to a serving bowl and cover and refrigerated until needed.

To serve, cut the cake into wedges and set on serving plates. Top each piece of cake with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish each serving with some mandarin orange segments, pomegranate seeds and/or mint sprigs.

Note: If your flour has been sitting for a while and looks compacted, give it a good whisk to aerate it before measuring it.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.